Football, food and family all come together with the long tradition of Thursday night dinners for the Chanute High School Blue Comets football team’s linemen. The linemen all congregate at a restaurant, or occasionally the home of a player, for a meal together the night before a game. They do this to build the camaraderie needed at their position where communication is key, senior Nolan Werner explained. “When you watch a college or professional team’s line, they’re so in sync,” he said. “They are the closest-knit group on the team and we wanted to make sure we build those connections. Football is a game of adversity and the closer a team gets through that the better.”
Todd Fritch, a former lineman for CHS who graduated in 2018, was one of the original orchestrators of the linemen dinner. He said that the tradition stemmed from when coaches Don Simmons and Jason Feeback would hold dinners for the entire team. Fritch and fellow teammate Justice Cantrell wanted to continue that togetherness after those coaches had moved on.
“Me and Justice felt like we still wanted something for the linemen,” Fritch said. “The linemen are always together and it helped us to relax for us to all go out after practice and hang out. You have to practice as hard as you play and we were hard on each other. We would be upset with each other, but at the end of a hard day we would go laugh and build that family that you need as a team.”
It began as an exclusive club for varsity linemen, but grew to include the younger players as well, and over time, other teammates not on the line. Fritch said that including the younger players was a way to ensure the tradition stayed alive.
“We got younger guys to make sure it kept going on,” Fritch said. “When I was a lowerclassman, I was treated a little different and held to a higher standard by the upperclassmen. I involved my classmates and the junior varsity players because it was so cool and I didn’t want the tradition to die. If you were a lineman, you came to eat with us.”
Freshman Dax Axelson said the dinners are a good way for him to get to know his older teammates in a relaxed setting that he wouldn’t have otherwise.
“I didn’t know JMac (senior Jacob McDonald) at all before we started having dinners,” Axelson said. “It’s a lot of fun to get to know everyone and their sense of humor.”
Spending several hours together every Thursday has really built up the communication channels that help them function as a family unit. They have conversations about much more than football during the dinners, and that has led to a lot of inside jokes amongst the players. McDonald believes that communication is a key to their success.
“Communication-wise, it definitely helps that we know each other so well,” McDonald said. “We don’t have to fully explain ourselves during a game because we already know what we’re doing and we trust each other.”
Head coach Clete Frazell said that camaraderie on the line is felt all across the field.
“It is very beneficial that our linemen are such a tight-knit group,” he said. “They all get along really well and it shows with how well they have done this year.”
Frazell said that the dinners were a player-organized event, but he had been invited to a few. The line coaches have also attended on occasion, but it is ultimately the team that is in charge. Typically they decide where to eat by Tuesday to get all of the logistics in place. Originally the dinners were exclusively held at restaurants, favoring local buffets, but in recent years some parents have also hosted the boys. Jimmie and Lori Davis have hosted, as well as Marty and Stacy Werner, who hosted a dinner last year. Stacy said she felt it was an honor.
“We loved having them,” she said. “They were all so gracious. They are such great kids, and it makes you feel blessed to be able to do something for them.”
This year, they also did something different by traveling to Iola to eat before the game between the rivalry schools. Werner took credit for the idea.
“I can be kind of petty when it comes to that team up north (Iola),” he said. “They are a big rival and we went there with as much Chanute stuff as we could put on our cars and on ourselves to make sure they knew we were there.”
When it comes to as many as 30 teenage boys sharing a meal together, it can be a raucous occasion, but they try to be respectful of the establishments they patronize. Stacy said that her son learned a lot from his upperclassmen that he has in turn taught to the younger boys now.
“They really learned those leadership skills and how to be a role model,” she said. “They have an influence on those younger kids and they take that responsibility seriously.”
As Werner and McDonald prepare to graduate, they have entrusted the dinner legacy to underclassmen. Sophomore Tuker Davis was named as a potential leader going forward and he is prepared to continue the tradition.
“I started helping out this year a lot,” Davis said. “I want this tradition to stay the same and I think I’ll be able to take it on just fine.”
Fritch is proud that the dinners are still a sacred tradition for the team.
“It’s really awesome and not just because I started it,” he said. “It helps those guys work as a team unit and have that brotherhood. I hope it’s still there for years to come.”